I've done a lot of celebrating of James Roberts' take on the Transformers mythos, and his half of IDW's two new ongoing series, Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye, was very compelling and entertaining, to the point where you might actually recommend a TF book to new readers. Now it's time to check in with his co-conspirator, IDW senior editor John Barber, who's handling the writing duties on Transformers: Robots In Disguise, to see if he's up to Roberts' snuff.
The first issue would seem to indicate that, yes, Barber has a similar sense of depth and breadth in his take on Cybertronian culture, as his job is to detail the attempts to actually build a new post-war society on the war-torn planet with a returning unaffiliated populace entirely resentful of the Autobots who are trying to keep the peace with their unstable provisional government. He's juggling so many hot-button issues for this new society that the plot's complexity already speaks for itself.
Bumblebee is in charge for reasons not even really known to him, but he's doing his best to live up to the responsibility he never asked for. Cybertron has been recently reborn after essentially being a dead husk for years thanks to the war, but it's very primordial and harsh to its inhabitants, making them feel very unwelcome. Yet, it's signaled for all the scattered NAILs (Non-Affiliated Indigenous Lifeforms – but don't call them that because they resent it) throughout the galaxy to come back home to live in peace now that the war is over. Except the Autobots, who were the first on the scene and victors of the war, are seen as symbolic of that war, and none of the NAILs particuarly want them in charge of the peace – case in point being NAIL representative Metalhawk, who goes so far as to spread rumors that Bee was responsible for the seeming destruction of Rodimus' departing crew on The Lost Light over in TF: MTMTE, since it was precipitated by a heated argument between Bee and Rod.
Then there's the matter of the remaining Decepticons, who were freed from captivity and employed as peacekeepers, but implanted with I/D chips in their heads that could be detonated if they got out of hand – which, of course, they do. Ratbat (in a great homage to the old Marvel comics) comes to the fore as a leading voice for the Decepticons (while Shockwave and Soundwave stand conspicuously inert in the background – there better be some good stuff planned for the awesome 'Wave boys) as an oppressed minority, and the Autobots' militaristic methods of governance – not helped much by Prowl's seemingly callous adherence to logic (and an even more callous shadowy conspirator who will apparently be ruthless where Prowl won't) – will not help their public image. Especially since, at the end of this issue, Bee is finally forced to actually use one of those detonator chips to kill a Decepticon named Horri-Bull.
Roberts is already showing sage judgment as well, because of all the characters to kill off, the one named Horri-Bull is clearly the best choice. Because his name is Horri-Bull.
So, as you can see, there's a lot in the cooker for TF: RID, and Roberts is showing a deft touch on part with Roberts as far as world-building and socio-political wrangling as the Cybertronian mythos is taken in a new, fresh direction for the future. The art from Andrew Griffith is just the sort of clean, shiny and slick look that is perfect for Transformers, and so is the bright and distinct color work from Josh Perez.
Then there's the matter of Transformers: Autocracy, a 12-issue digital-only miniseries from IDW that is going in the opposite direction of the Roberts/Barber ongoings and taking us back into Cybertron's past, detailing the beginnings of the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons with a story from Chris Metzen and Flint Dille.
Their story takes place some time after Prelude to Chaos, Roberts' stunning reinvention of the genesis of the great war, after pre-Optimus Orion Pax stood before the corrupt Senate and founded the Autobots by barking the just and inspiring writings of the pre-war philosopher Megatron at them. He'd been punished harshly and rebuilt, and he continues his service as a keeper of the peace, while the Decepticon insurgency continues to gain steam. Here, Pax and his crew are trying to break up an illegal arms deal and get a lot more than they bargained for – namely, Decepticons spouting off harsh truths about the government Pax is working for – and rather than agreeing with them as he did in the Senate chambers, he's instead using extremely brutal force on an unarmed captive. Something is up.
In the face of these two bold new TF series that are putting the epic war behind them, Autocracy seems to be here to give us a more classic storyline – Autobots vs. Decepticons in cool battles – but with a very modern twist and plenty of shades of gray in the moralities at play – beyond good, beyond evil. The fine-art painted look from artist Livio Ramondelli is back, and now that he's allowed to work in a setting with actual light, his moody look can shine a lot better than the murky, confusing stuff he was giving us during Chaos.
It's a very exciting time to be a Transformers fan. This trio of comic series might just be the best we've ever had it.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING: TF: RID – 8.9/10 TF: AUTOCRACY – 8/10